Northside Cafe brings Mardi Gras to Pullman

Chef Matthew Lasof developed event to pay homage to New Orleans


Courtesy of Isabella Nicosia

Executive Chef Matthew Lasof helped prepare roasted jalapenos with pepper cheese at last year’s event.

SYDNEY BROWN, Evergreen life editor

The dining team at Northside worked for weeks to bring the taste of New Orleans to WSU’s dining halls in time for Mardi Gras.

Dining Services Executive Chef Matthew Lasof will make a tribute to his time in New Orleans with Mardi Gras night at Northside Cafe.

Following what he considered last year’s successful Mardi Gras, Lasof said he wanted to go beyond duplicating the event — he wanted to make it bigger and better. For him, this meant adding more of the genuine Cajun foods he became familiar with after spending 10 years cooking for a number of restaurants down in Louisiana.

“What we’ve done with the menu is added more of the authentic dishes,” Lasof said.

More authentic for Lasof meant Cochon de Lait (a roasted carved Cajun pig) and salmon Court-bouillon, shrimp etouffee and blackened catfish, king cake and crawfish, he said.

Part of what adds to the enjoyable atmosphere, he said, is the genuine nature of the dishes they will serve.

He mentioned the colorful decorations, incorporating the cultural staples: purples, greens and golds. There will be balloons, ribbons, hats and photo booths. This is all characteristic of the Zulu parade on Canal Street, Lasof said, where participants toss chocolate coins and beads into the air.

“The thing about Mardi Gras is that it’s all about having fun and having a party,” he said. “It’s the big party before the Lenten season, the ultimate blowout before you give something up for [40] days.”

Though Mardi Gras has roots in Catholic tradition, the religious aspects of the event have long been separated from the main goal — the party. Many who enjoy the exotic taste of Cajun cuisine may not have ever stepped foot in a cathedral, but this isn’t the point of Mardi Gras for Lasof and his team.

“This is definitely a non-denominational event,” he said. “Mardi Gras has evolved throughout the years through the religious aspect, yes, but also through the party aspect. You can have a great party without the juxtaposition of those two things.”

Mardi Gras parades are a tradition, especially in the deep south, he said. Along the Gulf Coast, the mixture of seafood and old cultural ties cultivated a strong following of celebrators from Birmingham to Galveston to New Orleans — and now, Lasof noted, Pullman.

One of the constant draws of the celebrations is its interactive nature, Lasof said.

“When it comes to parades, you’re not just watching it, you’re participating in it,” he said. “In New Orleans and in Rio you’re involved, whether it’s throwing beads or anything.”

Here in Pullman, Lasof developed his own ways for residents to interact as they dine. Beads and masks will be given to participants. There will be a live band as well.

“Our intention is to have people walk in and go, ‘Wow,’ ” Lasof said.

The goal is to transform the dining area to look as if Canal Street in New Orleans landed directly in Northside Cafe, Lasof said.

For Dining Services General Manager Eddie Aguilar, the idea for the very first Mardi Gras night stemmed from a long tradition of hosting themed dinners. Still, Lasof’s experience was needed to build a vivid New Orleans identity inside the dining hall.

“It really wasn’t until we had [Lasof] here that we decided to just go for it,” Aguilar said. “It was really because of his experience and his enthusiasm.”

Aguilar worked to contact student marketing, leaving menu options for Lasof and his team to develop.

For Lasof, years in the Louisiana party scenes contributed to the ideas he came up with for the event.

“People ask, ‘OK what does that mean, a party? Does that mean I’m going to drink so much until I can’t walk?’ ” Lasof said. “For some, yeah, I guess that’s what it ends up being. Really, I think it’s just the pageantry, the socialization, the fun of it. That’s what makes it such a great event.”

Lasof emphasized the student-centric tone of the night because many of his plans are based around giving back to the students and allowing them a taste of New Orleans.

“With New Orleans, you got a city that’s been around hundreds of years,” he said. “You have history layered on history layered on history. They call it a gumbo, just a giant mixing pot.”

The event is open to anyone, and everyone is encouraged to come and experience something new and exciting, Aguilar said.

Mardi Gras will be celebrated at Northside Cafe on Tuesday from 5 – 8 p.m.